By Tacy Kennedy
This is a great question, and after serving as 2011 Archaeology Field School Lab Director I can give you the answer!
I have had the good fortune to be a part of the Presidio Archaeological Field School for the past two years, first as a student and then this year as the Archaeology Lab Director. After my field school I volunteered at the Presidio and learned the system used for cataloging artifacts. This later led to the opportunity to serve as lab director this summer.
During the field school, students split their time between learning excavation techniques and processing finds in the lab. The first thing that the students do in the lab is sort the artifacts by size (> or < 1/2”) and by type.
The artifacts are then counted and weighed and those measurements are recorded on inventory sheets. Most of the items fall into general categories that have been previously observed by archaeologists at the Presidio. Common artifacts are roof and floor tiles, nails, bottle glass, and various types of pottery known to have been used at this site during both the Spanish period and during later occupation.
Once the sorting and recording of the artifacts has been completed, the artifacts are bagged and given to me, the lab director, along with the inventory sheets, to be entered into the official catalog on the computer. It is my job to look at each artifact or group of artifacts and evaluate whether the finds have been correctly identified. As this is a learning environment and many of the students have not come into contact with items commonly found in this area, particularly those students from other parts of the country or world, artifacts are occasionally mistakenly identified as something else. If I find that an item has been incorrectly identified, I fix the entry on the inventory sheet and notify the students of the mistake and explain to them what the item is so that they will recognize it in the future.
Once I decide that the artifacts have been correctly identified, I enter them into the catalog. Up to this point the artifacts have simply been categorized by type, but in the catalog each item is assigned a category (personal, military, etc.) and then within that category a general material type is chosen (masonry, ceramic, etc.). The material type is then further refined to specific material type (copper, plaster, etc) and finally the object itself is specifically identified (marble, bead, etc.). To further describe the artifact there are places to describe what portion of an artifact was found (whole, rim, etc.), the color of the artifact, and the count and weight that were recorded on the inventory sheets. Once all of the information for the artifact has been input into the computer, tags are printed and placed in the bags with the artifacts so that any future observers will know exactly what they are looking at and where it came from.
Tacy Kennedy is the winner of SBTHP’s 2011 Higman Internship. She is currently working on a Masters Degree in Human Osteoarchaeology at the University College Cork.